Nico Hoerner living his best life: Why Cubs believed top prospect could handle The Show

Nico Hoerner living his best life: Why Cubs believed top prospect could handle The Show

Nobody thought he'd be here.

Not now, anyways.

When this week began, Nico Hoerner was hanging out at home in the Oakland area, gearing up for another stint in the Arizona Fall League to gain some extra experience after a hairline fracture in his wrist cost him two months of his first full professional campaign.

The Cubs certainly weren't expecting to need to be in desperation mode in regards to their shortstop depth chart. But with last week ending on the news that Javy Baez will miss the remainder of the regular season with a thumb fracture and then Addison Russell taking a 94 mph fastball off the face in Sunday's contest, Hoerner was pushed into action.

The Cubs put their top prospect on the fast track, calling him up to the big leagues 15 months after he was drafted and asking him to man the most important defensive position and face the best pitchers in the world while playing for a team fighting for its playoff life. 

All Hoerner has done since is impress, including in Friday afternoon's 17-8 win, where he swung at the very first pitch he saw in his Wrigley Field debut and sent it into the shrubs in center field to give the Cubs a 5-4 lead and cap off a wild first inning:

He followed that up with another 2-run single, giving him 8 RBI in his first five MLB games.

When asked before the game what kind of whirlwind this week has been for him, Hoerner smiled and kept his answer simple:

"It's not what I expected I'd be doing this week," he said. "But it's probably the best week of my life. It's been amazing."

Before Friday, the last time Hoerner was at Wrigley Field was July of last summer when he was getting examined for an elbow injury that cut his first pro season short after only 14 games.

He admitted these are bigger games than he's ever experienced before, but he is keeping his focus and staying calm by relying on his routine and trying to keep everything as normal as possible. 

Hoerner received a cheat sheet of notes from Cubs infield coach Brian Butterfield on the nuances of playing at Wrigley and has been talking to his new teammates all week about their first experiences in "The Show" and how they handled it. 

He also has some family in town that flew in from California after being fortunate enough to make his MLB debut in San Diego, close to his hometown. 

"Definitely a second debut, of sorts, today," Hoerner said. "I [stay calm by] continuing to do what I've done the last four days and my whole life. I'm really lucky to be on a team that's focused on winning right now. It kinda takes the personal side out of it."

Hoerner believes he belongs here, and his performance to date backs that up. He's played great defense at shortstop and now has 6 RBI in his first five big-league games after Friday's first-inning homer. 

That confidence has been palpable for the rest of the organization to see, too.

"It's cool," Jon Lester said. "...It's probably been a whirlwind for him, to come up here and contribute like he's been doing. I'm sure he hasn't been able to sleep a lot and has enjoyed his time here. Hopefully that continues for us, because he's been a little bit of a spark plug for us. Any time you add energy like that, especially the naiveness of it — not knowing what to expect and just going and playing baseball.

"Sometimes, we all need to get back to that. Sometimes, we all need to get back to just being baseball players and not worry about what else is going on surrounding us."

On the one hand, it's amazing that a kid who has played just 89 minor-league games is able to spark a big-league club in mid-September during a pennant race. On the other hand, what does that say about the rest of the team that they need a rookie with five games of MLB experience to remind them how to play free and uptight?

At this point in the season, the Cubs will take it however they can.

Joe Maddon spent much of Friday's pregame session talking about how he sees this Cubs team playing too tight and with too much self-doubt and then turned around and used a totally different way to describe how Hoerner looks in his first week.

"His personality, his makeup, he's a really well thought-out young man," Maddon said. "A lot of self-confidence. He doesn't carry a lot of doubt with him. Plus, he's good — good hands, makes contact, he can hit a variety of different kind of pitchers. He's got all that going on for him.

"Why can he do this? It's because of him — the innate components of his being. He's a solid young man that believes he belongs here and that's why he's doing it so well."

Theo Epstein spoke outside the home dugout at Wrigley Field Friday morning and reiterated that the organization didn't anticipate calling Hoerner up this month and only did so because of the injuries to Baez and Russell coupled with other shortstops in the minor leagues (Dixon Machado, Zack Short) being slowed by injury of late, too.

"We decided that Nico, given his mental makeup, could handle it even if it's a lot earlier than we thought," Epstein said. "He's such a thoughtful kid. He's highly intelligent. He's got great emotional intelligence, as well. Self-aware.

"I think going into an environment where winning is the obvious priority, that fits his mindset because he's always just looking for ways to help the team win and be part of the group. He's done that so far. He's gone out, he's showed off his tools and his composure and it's been a nice start for him."

Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

Christian Yelich to Yu Darvish on Twitter, 'Nobody needs help facing you'

In the wake of the cheating allegations surrounding the Houston Astros, multiple parties have weighed in with their takes on the situation, and this includes Cubs starter Yu Darvish. He stated that this past season, he had noticed "weird behavior" from batters. Bleacher Nation then tweeted out a video showing Darvish stepping off the mound in a matchup against Christian Yelich and the Milwaukee Brewers, stating that he stepped off the mound because Yelich's "eyes move first...I'm not sure what he is trying to do."

Darvish then went on to elaborate that he wasn't trying to accuse the Brewers of stealing signs, rather that he was just stating what he had noticed in terms of batter behavior. Darvish made a minor grammar mistake, saying "your" instead of "you're" and when he responded to try to clarify that, it may have accidentally caused more confusion, as some mistakenly thought he was saying that Yelich indeed was stealing signs, but this was not the case.

That didn't stop Yelich from sounding off on Darvish with quite a harsh response, a response that was so harsh that some were shocked at the nature of it.

MLB free agent Josh Donaldson chimed in, humorously stating that he could definitely  use some help hitting off of Darvish and jokingly asked for what tips Yelich might have. 

Darvish then retweeted a few tweets that illustrated the point he was trying to make. 

Darvish also responded to Donaldson, saying that he doesn't think the third baseman needs any help hitting off of him either. 

At the end of the Darvish seems to be in a good place, and from his Twitter interactions, it is clear that he was not as upset or offended over the situation as Yelich was. 

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How the Cubs can get a Javier Báez deal done now


How the Cubs can get a Javier Báez deal done now

With the MLB GM Meetings now over, the Cubs will turn their attention to seeing how their fact-finding mission will influence their offseason makeover of the entire organization.

As Gordon Wittenmyer of the Chicago Sun-Times reported on Friday, the Cubs and Báez’s camp have begun negotiating a long-term contract extension. While many have speculated that Báez could command a massive salary that would rank among the top of MLB in terms of the total value, the Cubs do have some leverage. Báez still has two more years of club control, which should help to suppress the contract’s total value.

Put yourself in Báez’s shoes. If the Cubs offered you a six-year deal, would you do it? If you say yes, you have lifetime security for you and generations of the Báez family. However, you could be leaving money on the table because you would never reach free agency in the prime of your career.

Rejecting an offer of that size means you would have to perform at a level among the best players in all of baseball for two more seasons, and you would have to avoid serious injury as well. Báez plays with a flair and a passion that also puts his body in harm’s way on a daily basis.

Red Sox shortstop Xander Bogaerts, 27, is two months older than Báez and the highest paid shortstop in baseball at $20 million per season. He signed a six-year, $120 million contract in 2019, which runs through the 2026 season.

Indians shortstop Francisco Lindor — who was selected No. 8 overall in the 2011 MLB Draft, one spot before Báez — will also be a free agent after the 2021 season. He made $10.55 million in 2019 and is projected to make $16.7 million in 2020.

Báez is projected to make $9.3 million.

So, would Báez accept a deal that would protect him against injury and set him up with lifetime security, knowing that with two more seasons before free agency he would potentially leave significant money on the table?

There could be three elite shortstops on the free agent market after the 2021 season: Báez, Lindor and Trevor Story of the Rockies. This may affect what each guy could make on the open market and what they might be willing to accept in a deal now. 

Add in the fact that there will be a new MLB collective bargaining agreement by the time those three stars hit the market, and there should be some impetus for them to get a deal done now. Multiple MLB front office sources expect Lindor to be dealt before he reaches free agency and some of those same sources believe Story could be traded before then as well.

What about a deal that helps the Cubs achieve payroll flexibility in 2020 and 2021 and locks Báez in long-term?

A former high-ranking MLB executive suggested a deal structure that pays Báez $10 million in 2020, $16 million in 2021, plus six additional years at an average annual value of $23 million. That would bring the total value of the contract to $164 million.

Add in two club options for an additional two seasons at $30 million each and it allows Báez to have the largest contract of all active shortstops in MLB. Total value of the deal: $224 million; guaranteed value of the deal: $164 million.

A deal structured like that gives the Cubs certainty with one of their most talented and marketable players and protects Báez from serious injury for the rest of his career.

Would he sign a deal structured like that? I know I would. There is no greater feeling in the world than long-term financial security. A deal structured like this is a win-win for both sides.

If the Cubs won’t give Báez a deal in this ballpark, then they have to think about moving him now. You can’t allow a player of his magnitude to reach free agency and you absolutely cannot lose him to another team. He is on a potential Hall of Fame track and he is one of the most charismatic players in all of professional sports.

This deal has to get done.

If the Cubs can sign Báez for less than the aforementioned deal, then they should consider themselves very lucky.

Either way, get a deal done. Javy Báez has to be priority No. 1.

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